Champion of treaty banning nuclear weapons honoured for tireless advocacy

Prominent ICAN supporter Setsuko Thurlow was today named Arms Control Person of the Year for 2015 in recognition of her tireless work to free the world of nuclear weapons. She shares the prestigious award with all other survivors of the 1945 atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

The survivors, known in Japanese as hibakusha, were nominated “for their unyielding dedication to sharing first-hand accounts of the catastrophic and inhumane effects of nuclear weapons”, said the Arms Control Association, which confers the honour each year after a popular vote.

Many hibakusha continue to dedicate their lives to reinforcing “the taboo against the further use of nuclear weapons” and to maintaining “pressure for effective action to eliminate and outlaw nuclear weapons and nuclear weapons testing”, the Washington-based organization said in a statement announcing the award.

Setsuko was 13 years old when her city of Hiroshima was destroyed by a US atomic bomb. Many of her classmates and family members perished in the attack. She vividly recalls the scenes of devastation.

“We saw a procession of ghostly figures, slowly shuffling from the centre of the city, grotesquely wounded people whose clothes were tattered or who were made naked by the blast. They were bleeding, burned, blackened and swollen,” she said. “Within the single flash of light, my beloved city of Hiroshima became a place of desolation.”

Setsuko now lives in Toronto, Canada, where she celebrated her 84th birthday at the beginning of this year. For many years, she was a social worker, including for the Toronto Board of Education, and established the Japanese Family Services of Metropolitan Toronto, serving Japanese immigrants.

Through the New York-based Hibakusha Stories project, she has shared her testimony with thousands of students to raise awareness about the ongoing threat of nuclear weapons. She has also travelled the world to speak at ICAN events, her powerful speeches inspiring countless people to take action.

“As a survivor of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, I feel a powerful commitment to tell the story of Hiroshima. The survivors are getting old and passing away, leaving a smaller number of us. We feel it is imperative to tell the younger generation of that terrible dawn of the nuclear age,” she said.

In 2014 Setsuko addressed two major intergovernmental conferences on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons, held in Mexico and Austria. Her words helped galvanize global support for negotiations on a treaty banning nuclear weapons outright.

The Arms Control Person of the Year for 2014 was Austria’s director for arms control, non-proliferation and disarmament, Ambassador Alexander Kmentt, the lead organizer of the conference in Austria at which Setsuko spoke. This gathering resulted in a historic pledge to prohibit and eliminate nuclear weapons.

The staff of the Arms Control Association nominated nine other candidates for the 2015 award for their significant achievements and contributions to reducing nuclear threats. Among them were the lead negotiators of the deal to curb Iran’s nuclear programme.